My heart pounded as I gripped the steering wheel so hard my knuckles turned white. Almost there, Alicia, keep driving, you’re almost there. Shallow gasps of air mixed with a stifling fear. I felt out of control, trapped in a horrible nightmare of green foliage and solitude. The very thing that once brought joy and calm now filled me with wordless terror.
Arriving at my destination, I turned off the engine and sat motionless, unable to move. I watched my brothers throw a frisbee. They glanced my way and waved, but I was too far away for them to notice that I didn’t wave back. I couldn’t. My whole body felt like lead. I knew the feeling of helplessness all too well, but this was different. I couldn’t move, couldn’t even lift my hand to open the car door.
I’m not sure how many minutes passed – maybe 5, maybe 10?
Somehow, I gained enough momentum to exit the car. I walked slowly to my brother, and promptly burst into tears.
“Everything is green.”
I never expected trauma to mark my life. Maybe it’s safe to say that no one expects trauma to mark their life. But here I was, here I am still somedays: living a limited life, terrified of things like spring turning the trees green.
I need to clarify something up front before going further: this is not the story of my traumatic experience(s). The story is still too fresh, too raw, and too messy to even explain.
Perhaps someday I will see the greater themes and sorrow will turn into joy.
Actually, I know that’s a guarantee at the end of this earthly life.
The present truth is that I see life finitely a little too much sometimes, and for now, sorrow tends to overshadow the joy more days than not.
But I digress.
When I moved back to the US nearly two years ago, I never anticipated that most of my re-entry would be painted by so much darkness – a darkness I’m still trying to find words for.
Trauma usually means a loss of some kind. In my case, it has meant a loss of a certain level of innocence and carefree-ness, a loss of vision for life, and a lack of excitement for adventure and new experiences – the very things that once made me come alive.
I’m writing these words, and honestly already worried that someone reading this has a solution for me. That if I prayed harder or took this supplement or cast that out, there would be instantaneous “healing.” Whew, it would be pretty nice if all it took was, “this is your problem and this is your solution” type of thing.
I’m reminded of a book I read a few years ago called “The Gift of Pain.” It’s the story of a doctor who makes it his life goal to find a cure for leprosy. Without going into too much technicality, he discovers that leprosy itself doesn’t eat away your flesh, but instead numbs pain. So while a healthy human would scream and yell in pain if a nail went through their foot, a person with leprosy would feel nothing and continue on. The nail in the foot leads to infection which leads to the person losing their foot – from an infection that could have been prevented if the person had felt the pain.
Some friends and I were discussing this book a few months ago when a thought struck me hard: When Jesus healed the ten lepers in Luke 17, the healing meant no more shame and no more stigma in who they were as image bearers. But it also meant that they could feel pain again. In a great paradox, healing was not the removal of pain but the restoration of it.
“When you think of healing, what is it that you’re hoping for?” My friend asked me the other day. I know what I’d love to see – restored vision for life, a desire to travel to and be in new places without being hyper-aware of my surroundings, no more being triggered by unexpected things, the ability to push myself physically and mentally without fear of after-effects… the list could go on for a while.
But I’m beginning to wonder if I’m selling myself and God short for chasing after a healing that I think is best. What if there is more to the story that I haven’t even caught a glimpse of yet?
Speaking of God… well, we’ve had a complicated relationship for a while now.
I ache to know and feel His Presence like I used to experience it. I miss the days of living in a spiritually dark place, where the battle was more clear and defined, the work we chose an invitation to follow His Spirit and leading others to do the same.
These days, I wrestle with His goodness, His sovereignty, His “plan.” The verse in Romans about all things working together for good rings in my head, but it’s more of a taunt sometimes than a promise. Maybe that’s because I miss the surrounding verses – how the passage before Paul talks about the Spirit helping us in our weakness and interceding for us. And a few verses later expound on how trouble or persecution or a host of other things cannot separate us from His love. All things working for good, then, become less of a taunt and more of a comfort. But I’d be lying if I said I understood all of that.
I’d love to summarize this first piece of my personal saga. I’d love to tell you how I have found healing and redemption and restoration and no longer have panic attacks or need counseling. Don’t get me wrong – I believe all of those things are possible someday. But when I decide the “someday” is exclusively going to be in this life earthly life, I get more depressed than hopeful.
Ever since reading through the Bible with a few friends at the beginning of this year, I’ve been amazed at how often I hear people say things are “getting worse.” Amazed because I’m wondering where they got this information. Like, have you read stories in the Old Testament? Have you read history books? (Correct me if I’m wrong on this, theologians and historians and friends more educated than me) I’m not really seeing an era in history where things are genuinely “good” worldwide. It seems like there is always something – a war or disaster or corruption or something terrible.
So to believe a full move of restoration and redemption is possible here on earth seems small. I believe in healing. I believe in miracles – I have witnessed and experienced them firsthand. I just wonder if maybe I’m dreaming too small. Maybe full restoration and complete healing (one where pain is obliterated) only comes at the very, very end. If all of this were possible here on earth, why hope for heaven? Why read Hebrews or the rest of the Bible, for that matter?
(I hope you know, reader, that all these musings are probably not theologically sound. I am not a theologian and don’t claim to be, so take my ramblings with a grain of salt.)
If there is hope right now to all the mess, it’s this: I’m grateful for the grace of Jesus in a season where I have more questions than I’ve ever had before. I’m grateful He doesn’t give up on me. I’m grateful for worship songs that make my eyes wet, praying people who anoint me, and friends who hold my hand or squeeze my arm when my body trembles and my mind plays games with reality.
Trauma has marked me, bringing massive amounts of brokenness, weakness, and sorrow. I am still finding words for just how it has marked me. You may interact with me in person, and not know this side of my life at all. I don’t aim to present a case for why you should be sorry for me or make you feel bad that you didn’t know. I aim to bring these pieces with the hope that maybe you’ll be okay with bringing your brokenness, too. Maybe we’re all in need of a healing that restores pain instead of obliterating it, groaning together as we wait in hope for an eternal, permanent healing where there is no more pain.
(Sidenote: I have chosen to keep specific details of my life and story out of this post, not as a teaser, but out of present necessity. Some stories are meant to be shared and expounded upon. I believe our testimonies carry power. However for this season, I have chosen to to divulge the full spectrum of my trauma only to closest friends and family as well as my counselor. I’m happy to answer questions that don’t compromise this choice – and someday, perhaps, my story will find a voice.)